A Sacramento County Superior County Judge has sided with the Colusa County District Attorney as having the authority to move forward with its lawsuit against the California Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) in an effort to bar convicted murderer Nathan Ramazzini from ever being released from prison.
Colusa County Superior Court in October 2018 upheld Ramazzini’s original sentence of life without parole plus one year for the brutal slaying of his childhood best friend, Erik Ingebretsen, when both were just 16, following the passage of new laws signed by Gov. Jerry Brown giving youthful offenders a second chance at freedom.
In an effort to keep Ramazzini, 39, behind bars for the remainder of his life, as authorized by Proposition 115, the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act, the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit against the state challenging Senate Bill 394, which granted parole hearings to inmates sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed before the age of 18.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Brendan Farrell’s position is that SB 394 illegally ended a law previously established by voter initiative, which included the statute that requires any amendments be passed by a two-thirds vote of the state legislature.
Farrell maintains that California law allows only the electorate to amend an initiative statute without a supermajority vote of the assembly.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge James P. Arguelles ruled on Nov. 22 that while the merits of Farrell’s original petition are not currently at issue, he overruled BHP’s challenge that the Colusa County District Attorney has no standing or legislative authority to bring forward the lawsuit, which could preclude the BPH from granting Ramazzini (or any other inmate who is similarly situated) a parole hearing if the county prevails.
California estimates that over 270 inmates who committed crimes as juveniles have been sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) since the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act was enacted.
“The judge ruled that we are the right party and we do have the right to sue because this is part of a criminal case,” Farrell said.
Judge Arguelles concluded that the district attorney has auxiliary rights to enforce the rights of a crime victim or victim’s family to participate in the parole process, as outlined in the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008, also known as Marsy’s Law.
“To the extent the CCDA seeks to enforce the LWOP sentence it secured against Ramazzini, the case arises directly from the underlying criminal case,” Arguelles opined. “Because the allegations can be construed to establish the CCDA’s authority to contest Ramazzini’s parole eligibility, the demurrer is overruled. The court need not decide and does not decide whether the CCDA may obtain relief impacting other LWOP prisoners’ parole eligibility.”
The BPH has no later than Thursday to answer to the DA’s petition or risk a default judgment, the court said.
Farrell said he expects the DA’s original Petition for Writ of Prohibition with the State’s 3rd District Court of Appeal to be heard sometime in the next year.
Ramazzini, who is incarcerated in a special housing unit at High Desert State Prison, in Susanville, could receive his first parole hearing in July 2021, after serving just 25 years in prison for beating Ingebretsen to death with a baseball bat before using a knife to mutilate his body, if the DA’s lawsuit does not prevail. ■